Even as a wedding coordinator, keeping track of all the details for one wedding can be challenging, but keeping track of 10 back-to-back weddings was nothing like I ever attempted before.
I wondered if by committing to 10 weddings in 10 weeks I was being reckless, and if I'd drop the ball and ruin some sweet couple's wedding day. I love the couples I work - they are amazing - and I take the responsibility and privilege of being their wedding coordinator extremely seriously. So I'm not the type to roll the dice with anyone's wedding day, and this fear kept me up at night on more than several occasions.
But over the previous 2 years of coordinating DIY weddings, I had created a system of keeping track and organizing the details specifically for DIY weddings. This was my opportunity to truly put it to the test, and see if it would work under real pressure.
So I set out with everything I've learned about organizing wedding day details since my own DIY wedding 3 years ago, and prepared for each wedding - one detail at a time. Here's what I did:
1. A Calendar for the Wedding Details
It's tempting to address wedding day details as they come in during the last month or two of wedding planning, but I've found the best way to stay on top of them is to anticipate that they are coming - and plan how you are going to tackle them in advance.
It's kind of like when they say in Game of Thrones, "Winter is coming..." but when it comes to wedding planning, it's "The last-minute details are coming..."
To make sure I was prepared, I planned out the following for each wedding on my calendar:
- When the couple and I would make a tentative timeline if it wasn't done already (about 2-3 months before the wedding)
- When we'd go over all the final details - large and small (about 4-6 weeks before the wedding day)
- When the finalized wedding day timeline would be completed and signed off on by the couple (about 4 weeks before the wedding day)
- When I would call the vendors to go over the timeline and final details with them (about 2-3 weeks before the wedding)
- When I would send a group email to all the vendors with directions, parking & unloading info, and day-of contact info (the week of the wedding)
2. A Seriously Detailed Day-of Timeline
When I first started coordinating weddings, my day-of timeline was 1 page long. Ceremony, dinner, cake cutting, etc. - that pretty much gives you the gist of what was on there. Three weddings seasons later, my day-of timelines look totally different - as in 10 pages different. Now, I put every little detail on the day-of wedding timeline.
If Nana Nancy needs to be escorted by Uncle Jed to her seat when she arrives on the day of the wedding at 3 p.m., it's going on my timeline. If the caterer needs an 8-foot table with a white linen placed by the back door of the barn before they arrive at 1 p.m., that's going on my timeline.
For me, this is the only way I can keep track of all the details, and how they fit into the big picture for the day. No cookie cutter day-of timelines here because every wedding is different and needs its own unique timeline.
3. Individual Timelines for Vendors & Helpers
As a once DIY bride and a now DIY wedding coordinator, one important thing I've learned is that every vendor and helper does not need to know every detail. I do, but they don't. In fact, giving everyone all the details is the quickest way to confuse the heck out of people. 1-3 people really need to know the whole plan, and that's about it.
The officiant needs to know what the props are for the ceremony, and the DJ needs to know the name of the first dance song. But the officiant doesn't need to know the first dance song just like the DJ doesn't need to know that there is going to be a wine box used during the ceremony. Sometimes TMI is really just way too much information for everyone.
So when it comes to communicating details to others, I make smaller individual timelines for the wedding party and each vendor. This way each person only sees (and keeps track of) the wedding details that are applicable to him or her,
4. Mini Checklists for the Wedding Day
Before a wedding day I make mini checklists in an Excel spreadsheet. For instance, if the make up artist tells me that she needs to have a table and 2 chairs set up next to a window with natural light and near an electrical plug when she arrives at 9 a.m., I make a little mini checklist list like this in an Excel spreadsheet:
Make up artist (9 a.m. arrival)
- 2 chairs
- Electrical plug
- Window with natural light
By listing everything she needs in a simple checklist, I can quickly make sure that these things are in place and ready to go. If not, I have what's needed to get it done quickly, and without having to flip through my day-of timeline or notes. And if I need to hand this off to someone else to take care of, like my assistant Brittany, I can easily do that and know she can quickly make sense of the details and take care of them.
I have found that using both the master day-of timeline & the mini checklists are really my saving graces for keeping track of the large and small details.
5. Expect the Surprises
Having helped 30+ DIY couples plan weddings since my own DIY wedding, I know that every wedding will have a surprise, or two, or a few. No matter how much you prepare, there are always surprises.
For instance, a vendor will say he's bringing an extension cord, and I'll assume it's at least 10 feet as that's pretty standard. Then on the day of the wedding I'll realize it's just a 3-foot one, and we're short a few feet of extension cord and have to come up with a solution. (Now, I actually bring 140-feet worth of extension cords to each wedding, but that's a little excessive for the average DIY couple planning their own wedding to do!)
Or on the day of the wedding, a groomsmen will tell me there is a special surprise for the couple that has been planned by a few friends, and I realize dinner needs to be moved back a bit to accommodate the surprise. And so on and so on...
Surprises ALWAYS happen. So whether you've hired a wedding planner or wedding coordinator, or are going the DIY route, mentally prepare for surprises. This way you're not caught off guard when they happen, and you can be prepared to handle the unexpected.
All in all...
I'm over-the-moon happy to report, that this system for orgnanizing wedding day details that Brittany and I have been tweaking for the last 3 wedding seasons, worked incredibly well in the run of 10 weddings in 10 weeks. There were countless magic, happy tear-jerking moments partly enhanced by us keeping track of the details behind the scenes.
Though we ended up with so many glowing emails, cards, and reviews, this review from Karah & Sam sums up how all the details came together:
"Our dream wedding came to life because of Caitlin. She was so organized and helpful during the planning process. There were so many important details I would have completely forgot or overlooked if it wasn't for Caitlin and her knowledge of planning a DIY wedding... Caitlin is more than a wedding planner, she truly cares about the couple and making their wedding day special!"
And it's true - I do care about each and every DIY couple we work with. I've been there. I know it's not easy trying to plan your own wedding, and create those meaningful moments for your family and friends.
It may not be easy, but I know from my own wedding and so many other DIY weddings, that it's TOTALLY worth it. Words literally can't describe what it's like until you go through it. And that's why I share all I can with you - so you can have those "words-can't-describe-it moments", too. They are there, just waiting on the other side of all the details.